Category: Alumni

Greetings from the Copper Country to our GMES Alumni and Friends!

A Note from the Chair

I hope you have stayed healthy and safe during these unusual times.
Spring has finally arrived at the Keweenaw after a long winter! As the cycle of Nature starts anew, so too does the process of regular Departmental Newsletters. This newsletter reaches you after a long hiatus, but the dormancy does not mean that progress ceased behind the scenes; on the contrary, we have been keeping busy, and many new exciting developments have occurred.


Aleksey Smirnov, Professor and Chair, Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, Michigan Technological University

Any attempt to recap all the news and excitements over the last decade in a single letter would be impossible, so I encourage you to visit our Departmental News blog to read more about the achievements of our faculty, students, and staff in research and education. You may also want to check out our faculty and staff directories to see some new and not-so-new faces and learn more about our people and their activities.

An achievement that cannot go unmentioned is the reinstatement of our Bachelor of Science in Mining Engineering program in 2019. This success came through the dedicated and indefatigable efforts by Professor John Gierke, who served as department chair from 2014 to 2020, and our superb mining engineering faculty, Associate Professor Snehamoy Chatterjee and Senior Lecturer Nathan Manser (an MTU alumnus BSME ‘01), who joined the Department in 2014 and 2018, respectively. Several faculty from outside the department generously contribute their expertise in the education of our mining engineering students. I am delighted to report that, in spring 2020, we celebrated our first graduating class of mining engineers since 2004!

Our faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to keep our department moving forward positively through the global pandemic crisis. Our achievements and the success of remote and socially distanced learning and research are sources of pride for the department and the wider GMES community. Despite unprecedented challenges, our students and faculty performed extraordinarily well, especially since experiential geology learning is not easily amenable to virtual instruction. Their flexibility, resourcefulness, and perseverance have been exemplary.

Also deserving of praise are our 2020 and 2021 graduates and the student recipients of recognitions and awards.

Our faculty and research scientists have stayed very active in cutting-edge and societally relevant research, collaborating around the globe and providing hands-on, real-world experience for our students.

Many of these achievements have been possible only with your continuing support, encouragement, and interest in our efforts and accomplishments.

Your impact on the world is a great motivator for our students.

On behalf of our students, faculty, and staff, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our alumni and friends who have donated to our department; this support has allowed us to keep offering the best instruction and resources to our students during these difficult times.

One of my overarching goals as chair is to maintain and expand a strong and committed alumni base. If you are ever back in town, I hope you will stop by to say hello and share your story. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to email me any time at asmirnov@mtu.edu, or use this link to share your successes and achievements or offer suggestions. Your impact on the world is a great motivator for our students.

Finally, I invite you to stay connected to the department via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and our website.

Best wishes,
Aleksey Smirnov


Michigan Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Academy Inducts Class of 2021

R.L. Smith Building, Michigan Technological University

05/14/2021—Michigan Technological University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics (ME-EM) held its 2021 ME-EM Academy induction ceremony May 14 via Zoom.

Eleven ME-EM alumni were welcomed into the academy by JS Endowed Department Chair William W. Predebon. 

“This year’s inductees have made a significant impact in their professions,” said Predebon. “They include alumni who have risen to the top levels of major corporations, professional societies and universities, and those who are successful entrepreneurs.”

Portraits and brief biographies of academy members are prominently displayed in the R. L. Smith ME-EM Building to serve as inspiration for future students.

The full ME-EM Academy now includes 88 members — less than 1 percent of all ME-EM alumni. 

“They indeed honor us through their accomplishments,” said Predebon. “It’s a fantastic leadership group.”

The Class of 2021 ME-EM Academy inductees are:

Brett R. Chouinard, BSME 1988
President and Chief Operating Officer — Altair Engineering Inc.

Brett R. Chouinard

As president and chief operating officer of Altair Engineering, Chouinard is responsible for worldwide sales, consulting, and field operations in 25 countries. His team supports users across diverse industries, including automotive, aerospace, electronics, defense, banking, and financial services.  

During his time at Altair, the company has become a market leader in the areas of physics-based simulation, high performance computing, optimization, and machine learning. Chouinard was a senior member of the executive team that executed Altair’s successful IPO in 2017. 

He began his career at General Electric Aircraft Engines as a structural engineer on the GE90 high bypass commercial engine program—at the time, the largest commercial aircraft engine in the world. 

Chouinard is a member of the ME-EM External Advisory Board, and supports STEM education in the community as a trustee of the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum and Leslie Science and Nature Center. 

M. Margaret Cobb, BSME 1983
President — The Cobb Foundation, NW

M. Margaret Cobb

Early in her career after earning her degree at Michigan Tech, Cobb worked as a mechanical engineer in a number of industries: Wisconsin Electric Power and Snohomish County PUD; the Boeing Company, Sundstrand Data Control, then Microsoft and Apple.

During her 20-plus years at Microsoft, Cobb worked on Windows, Xbox, and PC design in a variety of leadership roles. She led a multi-billion-dollar technical sales/engineering team responsible for designing, engineering and producing PCs worldwide, and received Microsoft’s annual Circle of Excellence award for her exceptional work with independent software vendors. 

As a recipient of Michigan Tech’s Board of Control scholarship, Cobb has made it a career mission to give back to the community, serving on the board of directors for numerous organizations including The Epilepsy Foundation Northwest, and Minds Matter Seattle—a non-profit dedicated to helping low-income high school students get into college. 

Cobb and her family established The Cobb Foundation Northwest, dedicated to helping low-income students to ensure all have access to life-changing educational experiences not provided by public schools, including music lessons, book clubs, athletic lessons, robotic workshops, and more.

Juan Dalla Rizza, PE, BSME 1971
President & Principal Engineer — Dalla-Rizza & Associates Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Juan Dalla Rizza

Dalla Rizza was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1962, as part of the Catholic Relief Program known as Peter Pan. He grew up in Marquette, Michigan.

After earning his degree at Michigan Tech, Dalla Rizza moved to Miami in order to be closer to family members. He started work for H.J. Ross, a consulting engineering firm. In 1978 he obtained registration as a Professional Engineer. A few years later, he started his own firm.

Dalla Rizza & Associates today is a Miami-based engineering firm serving the commercial construction industry, involved in engineering projects throughout Florida and the Southeast. Projects include The Biltmore Hotel and Convention Center, and The Colonnade Complex (both in Coral Gables), The Freedom Tower in Miami, and The King and Prince Hotel Complex, Phase I, II, III in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Rizza’s firm offers engineering services to large management companies, as well, based on a solid relationship that spans many years. 

Dr. Kimberly L. Foster, BSME 1994
Dean, School of Science & Engineering — Tulane University 

Kimberly L. Foster

Foster was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but spent her formative years growing up in Houghton, Michigan. While earning her BSME degree at Michigan Tech, she worked as a research assistant in the lab of MSE professor Walt Milligan, and as a tutor in the Mechanics Learning Center, where she realized how much she enjoyed teaching. 

Foster continued her education at Cornell, earning a PhD in Theoretical & Applied Mechanics, becoming fascinated by microelectromechanical systems. From there she headed to UC Santa Barbara, where she became full professor and chair of her department. In 2018 Foster became Dean of the School of Science & Engineering at Tulane University.

Foster is active in her professional community as a member of the Transducer Research Foundation, and fellow of ASME. She holds 12 US patents. She is married to John Foster, a physicist turned serial entrepreneur. Their co-inventions led to the development of Owl Biomedical, an exclusive cell sorting MEMS technology for cell therapy, cancer diagnostics and basic research.

Pamela Rogers Klyn, BSME 1993
Senior Vice President, Global Product Organization — Whirlpool Corporation

Pamela Rogers Klyn

Klyn joined Whirlpool soon after graduating from MIchigan Tech, with advancing roles in engineering, product development, global innovation, and marketing. She now leads all of the Washer, Dryer and Commercial Laundry platforms globally.

As the first female technology director for Whirlpool Corporation, Klyn is passionate about mentoring other women at the company, providing them with the tools, confidence and encouragement to pursue roles at the highest levels of the organization.

Klyn serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton Harbor, Michigan, and as co-leader of the Whirlpool United Way Campaign in support of her local community. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for Patrick Industries, a publicly traded company serving the RV, Marine, and Industrial and Manufactured Housing industries.

Klyn earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and an Executive MBA from Bowling Green State University. She serves as a member of Michigan Tech’s ME-EM External Advisory Board and also serves on Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering External Advisory Board.

Karl E. LaPeer, BSME 1985
Partner — Peninsula Capital Partners, LLC 

Karl E. LaPeer

LaPeer is a partner at Peninsula Capital Partners, LLC, a Detroit-based $1.9 billion private equity firm. In 1995 LaPeer and his partners began with $20 million in capital and they have since invested over $1.5 billion in more than 140 small and mid-sized companies with operations in North America and throughout the world.

LaPeer began his career at Fanuc Robotics serving in engineering and operations roles both in the U.S. and Europe, then earned an MBA from the University of Michigan. He has served on dozens of small business boards of directors, helping these businesses succeed. He is an ordained pastor and evangelist.

LaPeer met his wife, Christine (BSMT, 1985) on their second day of classes at Michigan Tech. Together they were recipients of the 2019 Michigan Tech Humanitarian Award. 

The LaPeer family volunteers around the world. They have opened four orphanages in India, installed water wells and large water purification systems in Peru, Nicaragua, and Ghana, served in medical clinics and provided humanitarian aid in Central and South America, and served as leaders of missions teams large and small. 

Robert S. Messina, BSME 1993
Senior Vice President, Global Product Development and Product Management — JLG Industries, Inc.

Robert S. Messina

At JLG Industries, Oshkosh Corporation’s Access Equipment segment, Messina is responsible for a team of engineers and product strategists in R&D facilities located in North America, Europe, China and India. His team develops world class mobile elevating work platforms, telescopic material handlers and towing and recovery equipment, focused on bringing operators home safely from work each day.  

Messina has served in various leadership roles across Oshkosh, including technology development in electrification, mobility systems, autonomy, active safety and connected products. During his tenure in Oshkosh Defense, he was instrumental in multiple strategic programs.

Messina sponsors STEM-related activities to foster tomorrow’s engineering community. He serves on the Oshkosh Corporation Foundation, the Oshkosh Venture Capital Investment Committee, and the advisory board for Construction Robotics.

Messina started his career at Chrysler soon after graduating from Michigan Tech, with roles in the design, development, and calibration of rear-wheel drive automatic transmissions and torque converters, including launching new production facilities. He earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Oakland University.

Douglas L. Parks, BSME 1984
Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing & Supply Chain — General Motors Company

Douglas L. Parks

Parks began his career with GM as a tooling engineer soon upon graduation from Michigan Tech. He earned an MBA from the University of Michigan through the GM Fellowship Program.

Parks has served in numerous positions at GM. As Global Chief Engineer for Electric Cars, he was in charge of the Chevy Volt, among others. He was also Global Vehicle Chief Engineer for GM’s compact vehicles. 

As GM’s Vice President of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs, Parks launched Super Cruise, the industry’s first hands-free driving technology for compatible highways on the 2018 Cadillac CT6. He was the leader of several engineering teams at GM that achieved major milestones in a few years’ time: one was the team for the Cruise AV, a production-intent autonomous vehicle built from the ground up. Without driver controls, it has all the hardware necessary to operate safely on its own. Another team led by Parks produced three self-driving test vehicle generations in approximately 16 months. Yet another developed GM’s all-new electric vehicle architecture, increasing the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV’s range to 259 miles per gallon with improvements in battery chemistry.

Gordon W. Renn, BSME 1982
President, CEO & Chairman — Fox Converting, Inc. and Accuracy Machine, LLC / Chairman – Loyality, Inc.

Gordon W. Renn

Renn is an entrepreneur who has made a career of pursuing and developing higher risk opportunities. Agile and effective loss control management is one of his key strengths.

He is a multiple small business owner. One of his companies, Fox Converting, Inc. manufactures FDA Class II Medical Devices, certified safe quality food packaging, and antiviral coated paper for consumer products. Another, Accuracy Pharmaceutical Machine, LLC, manufactures ultra clean, ultra-precise tooling for the pharmaceutical industry, to assist the industry to ultimately produce cures beyond conventional treatments. Loyality, Inc. affordably and effectively delivers sophisticated IT solutions typically beyond the budget of small and medium sized businesses. It also assists in large, enterprise company niches.

Renn has served higher education as a board member, donor, advisor, consultant and speaker at Michigan Tech and the University of Wisconsin Platteville. His community leadership is centered on youth organizations, including a Christian shelter serving homeless children and their families, a favorite of Renn’s for over 30 years. 

Renn enjoys time with his family, the great outdoors, a dog that regularly rescues him, and working with great people pursuing excellence. Renn credits his loving parents for guiding him to engineering and Michigan Tech. 

Dr. Sheryl A. Sorby, MSEM 1986, PhD ME-EM 1991

Sheryl A. Sorby

Professor of Engineering Education — University of Cincinnati / President of American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)

Sorby graduated from Hastings High School in downstate Michigan, but spent every summer in the Upper Peninsula with her family. Just a few hours away was Michigan Tech, where Sorby earned a BS in Civil Engineering, an MS in Engineering Mechanics, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

Sorby became a longtime faculty member at Michigan Tech: associate dean of engineering for academic programs and founding chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, responsible for the development and delivery of the first-year engineering program, a legacy effort that remains in support of first-year engineering students to this day. 

At the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, Sorby served as program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education and then became a Fulbright Scholar, conducting research at the Dublin Institute of Technology. 

In 1993 Sorby received her first grant to develop a course for helping engineering students develop their 3-D spatial skills—the abilities to translate 2-D objects to 3-D and to mentally rotate 3-D objects. She has received numerous follow-up grants to further this work, over $13 million. To advance spatial research and training worldwide, Sorby founded the nonprofit Higher Education Services (HES), an educational consulting firm.

Sorby is current President of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). She is a Fellow of ASEE, and also received the Society’s Sharon Keillor award as an outstanding female engineering educator. In 2005 she received the Betty Vetter award for Research on Women in Engineering through the Women in Engineering Pro-Active Network (WEPAN) for her work in improving the 3-D spatial skills of engineering students. She has published more than 150 papers in journals and conference proceedings and is the author of seven textbooks.

Christopher K. Yakes, BSME 1995
Vice President, Global Engineering — Oshkosh Corporation

Christopher K. Yakes

At Oshkosh Corporation, Yakes designs and manufactures products that build, serve and protect communities around the world. 

He is responsible for matrix teams that support the company with wide subject matter expertise in advanced controls, data analytics, telematics, autonomy and active safety, advanced suspensions, powertrains, material and processes, and numerous other advanced efforts, tools and techniques. 

Yakes holds 29 patents related to hybrid systems, autonomous vehicles, vehicle architectures and components. He was part of the Oshkosh team awarded the SAE/Magnus Hendrickson Innovation Award in 2018.

Yakes led the development and capture efforts of various key production and research programs: MRAP All-terrain Vehicles (MATV), Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), various DARPA activities, the Oshkosh® TerraMax™ unmanned ground vehicle system, a variety of Department of Defense and Department of Energy Research and Development programs, and most recently was instrumental in providing strategic direction on the USPS Next Generation Delivery Vehicle.

Prior to his work at Oshkosh Corporation, he was a component development engineer for various engines and their components at Detroit Diesel Corporation.

Yakes was instrumental in the implementation of the STEM program at Oshkosh, actively involved with mentoring the next generation of engineers and problem solvers within Oshkosh.


Engineering Alumni Activity Summer 2021

Julie Marinucci
Julie Marinucci

Michigan Tech alumna Julie Marinucci was named the new land commissioner and director of the St. Louis County Land and Minerals Department. As director, Marinucci will lead a staff of 52 responsible for managing approximately 900,000 acres of tax-forfeited trust lands. Marinucci holds a BS in Mining Engineering from Michigan Tech.

Jacob Soter
Jacob Soter

A pilot program for the Swimsmart Warning System, an automated warning light system for beachgoers developed by Michigan Tech graduate Jacob Soter and his advisor Andrew Barnard (ME-EM), was covered by 9&10 News. Soter has degrees in computer engineering, electrical engineering, and business administration.

Husky alumnae Meredith LaBeau and Audra Thurston were the focus of a feature article that ran in Printed Circuit Design & Fab. The article described LaBeau and Thurston’s participation in an upcoming Women in Aerospace virtual event intended to inspire K-12 students to pursue STEM careers. LaBeau holds a PhD degree from Michigan Tech in Environmental Engineering focusing on the integrated assessment of anthropogenic, climate and policy-induced changes on phosphorus export in the United States Laurentian Great Lakes watersheds, as well as an MS degree in environmental engineering and a BS degree in biomedical engineering from Michigan Tech. Thurston has a degree in chemical engineering.

Kim McGill
Kim McGill

Michigan Tech alumna Kim McGill, vice president of marketing at Lennox Residential, discussed the pandemic and indoor air quality on WFTX Fox 4, Fort Myers, Fla. Kim has a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan Technological University and an MBA in marketing from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University.


Kit Cischke: Students Boldly DOING Where No One Has Done Before

Kit Cischke and three graduating seniors from Michigan Tech’s Wireless Communications Enterprise team share their knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, April 12 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday 4/12 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Kit Cischke, senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at  Michigan Technological University. He’s also longtime advisor to Wireless Communications Enterprise (WCE), part of the University’s award-winning Enterprise Program.

“I can’t lie,” says Kit Cischke. “Part of the reason I got excited about Enterprise way back in 1999 (as a student) was because the name of the program was the same as my favorite fictional ship.”

Joining in will be Abby Nelson, Ken Shiver, and Michael Patrick:  all three are ECE students and senior members of WCE. During Husky Bites, they’ll walk us through their projects and share what it’s like for college students to serve industry clients—and think, work and operate like a company.

Part of the university’s award-winning Enterprise Program, WCE is focused on technology—wireless, optical, renewable energy and biomedical. The student-run enterprise works as a think-tank for companies looking to push their product lines to a higher level. And WCE members also work as entrepreneurs, taking their own ideas to a level where they can be useful for industry and consumers alike. 

A student sits in the lab, soldering another LED onto the printed circuit board she designed herself and fabricated on equipment sitting not two feet away. A group puts the finishing touches on a setup for an experiment to detect water leaks in washing machines. Two students are at a computer, debugging code. A 3D printer hums away as yet another prototype is fabricated. Amid all this are students just sitting on the couch, discussing events of the day. It’s 10:00 PM on a Tuesday in the middle of the semester. Nobody has made these students come; they are here by their own volition. This is the Wireless Communications Enterprise.

“There’s no shortage of interesting and meaningful projects,” says Cischke. “Just a sampling: Android tablet programming with machine learning algorithms; machine vision algorithms; estimating the power contribution of anaerobic digester systems; and establishing a Bluetooth connection to a smart power tool. Some are explicitly wireless, others are not. Regardless, student leadership abounds.”

As an ECE instructor and WCE advisor, Cischke has the fantastic ability to make complex topics easy to understand. He does this through analogies, humor, and being open and approachable to students. He strives to be a “complete human being” with his students, sharing stories about his family and life.

During Husky Bites, Nelson, Shiver and Patrick, along with Cischke (WCE faculty advisor) will walk us through their projects and share what it’s like for college students to serve industry clients—and think, work and operate like a company. 


“This is a Differential Amplifier Circuit used to sense the voltages of 4 cells in a battery pack,” says WCE team member Abby Nelson. “Version 5. It will be connected to an arduino so that we can remotely find out the charge of those cells in the battery.”

Cischke first came to Michigan Tech as a student in 1997. During his studies, he worked as an intern for IBM, verifying hard drive controllers in VHDL, and helped found one of the original Enterprise teams—the Wireless Communications Enterprise. He graduated in 2001 with a BS in Electrical Engineering, went to work for Unisys for about four and a half years and completed a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.

“When I gathered in a classroom in 1999 with 40 fellow students to found a new Enterprise team, WCE, we couldn’t have imagined how it is today,” he recalls. “We had no space to call our own. We had no equipment. We had no clear projects. Over time, we found our footing and established our course,” says Cishke.

“I graduated into the ‘real world’ and found that the structure we were striving toward in WCE was the very structure found in industry,” he adds. “It was a considerable shock when I returned to Michigan Tech in order to teach—and found WCE had become an engineering company, composed entirely of students, only five years later.”

I watch the final presentation of a student who has been in WCE for four semesters and heading off to the “real world” now. There is no comparison to the student he was before WCE. He is older, wiser and more experienced. He has worked in a team and led a team himself. He is ready to make his mark on the world. This is the Wireless Communications Enterprise.

“When I was first asked to advise WCE students, I was intimidated,” Cishke admits.”The previous advisor had nursed the group through the formative years and had them operating at a state I couldn’t imagine sustaining. My fears were unjustified.

“It takes active effort on the part of an advisor to upset the momentum the students have. Student leadership abounds. Turns out it’s not intimidating to be their advisor—it’s a pleasure.”

Kit Cischke

How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Actually, it was Star Trek. Some friends got me watching it in high school and my hero was Geordi LaForge (the chief engineer on the Enterprise). I don’t know that I expected “real” engineering to be like a day in deep space, but I loved the technology and problem solving. I first came to Michigan Tech as a budding chemical engineer, but realized that I liked playing with computers more than chemistry and switched into electrical and computer engineering. It’s a field that I enjoy and is constantly changing. 

The Star Trek character Geordi LaForge, portrayed by LeVar Burton.

What was the best part of taking part in WCE?

The best part is working with the students and watching them do cool things. When I started as a student, there was a sense that we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. What was our purpose? What was our value-add to the department and university? Now, the program and the students practically sell themselves. They accomplish so much and are so driven to do it. I have the “grade stick” to hold over them, but most of the students are internally motivated. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

Yes! I love bikes and the riding of bikes! I ride on mountain bike trails, paved roads, and gravel roads. I commute to the campus year-round on my bike—it’s far more possible than most people think. I’m a USA Cycling official too. When I’m not on a bike, I referee hockey, run, and I’m also learning how to do cross-country skate skiing and play guitar at my church.

Meet These Three Wireless Communications Enterprise Members at Husky Bites

Abby Nelson had two internships at John Deere, and accepted a job upon graduation. She’ll be taking part in the company’s development program for new engineers, with three 8-month rotations, all in different jobs and locations.

Abby Nelson ’21, Computer Engineering

Growing up I was always interested in how things worked. I caught onto computers pretty quickly. When I had to choose a college major, I chose computer engineering off the cuff. It turned out to be the right choice.

As soon as I walked on campus at Michigan Tech and saw the buildings and the people, I immediately knew that this was where I was going to go. In WCE, I’ve worked hands-on so much more than I would have in the classes I’ve taken in my major alone. I’ve met business connections and learned from other people, as well. WCE projects are student led (faculty advised), so there is a lot of problem solving involved in completing projects.

In my spare time, I enjoy biking, kayaking, and hiking around the UP. There are so many outdoor adventure opportunities, I wouldn’t trade this place for anywhere else. I will be graduating April 30th, 2021, and I am literally counting the days! Then I’ll move to Moline, Illinois to work at John Deere starting in May.

Kenny Shivers takes a break during a hike near Hungarian Falls.

Kenny Shivers ’21, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (Double Major)

During high school I took part in FIRST robotics. For those who aren’t familiar, every year a new game and game rules are released on the first Saturday of the year. Teams have six weeks during the “build season” to prototype, design, and build 120-pound competition robots to play against each other in 3v3 teams. After that come district, regional, state, and world championship competitions. All that fast-paced environment and creative problem solving got me interested in engineering. I ended up here at Michigan Tech as a result.

The best part about WCE are the people. This may sound a bit odd, since senior design or Enterprise are required to graduate. In WCE, those of us working on similar projects group together, which forms a sense of camaraderie. We’re all at Michigan Tech together and mostly dealing with similar problems. When it gets closer to the end of the semester, it’s crunch time, with more and more things to do on deadline. It’s a lot like a real job out in industry.

Like most Tech students I enjoy spending time outdoors and working with my hands. Last summer I stayed here in the Keweenaw because of the pandemic. I got an old, broken bike and fixed it up. It’s not a bike I would necessarily let someone else ride, but I know it well enough to trust it for myself. I also play piano and read a bit. Lately I’ve been focused on trying to make sure I have everything together to graduate and find a job. I’m actively looking for employment in embedded systems in Southeast Michigan.

Michael Patrick and his son, Charlie. “He’s an adorable little man.”

Michael Patrick ’21, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (Double Major)

I first became aware of engineering from my mother, a Michigan Tech chemical engineering graduate. She homeschooled me during my early education years. Then, in my FIRST Robotics team in high school, I was on the controls and electrical team (FRC Team 1718, The Fighting Pi). From that experience I knew I wanted to pursue electrical and computer engineering.

The best part of WCE, for me, have been the lab space and the community. I have made good friends in WCE, and the lab space has allowed me to tinker with electronics using tools I normally wouldn’t have access to. Right now I’m using it to repair a bluetooth speaker for a friend of mine.

Outside of school and becoming a new parent, I have a passion for cooking and healthy eating. I began a plant-based pescatarian diet 3 weeks ago, and never felt better. I also enjoy teaching and tutoring. I’m looking forward to having a side job as an online tutor once I graduate. Right now I’m still on the job hunt, looking ideally for an embedded software engineering position. Once I establish employment, I intend to start my loan payoffs and take a few years off from education, before pursuing a graduate degree.


Tiny Nanoindentations Make a Big Difference for Prasad Soman

microphoto of nanoindentations seen near the grain boundary of iron, seen at 20 microns
Nanoindentations performed near or away from the grain boundary of iron, made to study their effect on deformation. Photo credit: Prasad Soman

Prasad Soman will graduate soon with his MSE PhD. But instead of walking down the aisle and tossing his cap in Michigan Tech’s Dee Stadium, this year he’ll take part in Michigan Tech’s first-ever outdoor graduation walk.

“My PhD research goal was to better understand how the addition of carbon affects the strengthening mechanism of iron—by looking to see what happens at the nanoscale,” he explains.

Soman studied the mechanisms of grain boundary strengthening by using an advanced and challenging technique known as nanoindentation to get “up close and personal” to the interfaces between individual crystals within a material. Just last week Soman successfully defended his PhD dissertation: “Study of Effects of Chemistry and Grain Boundary Geometry on Materials Failure.” The research was sponsored by the US Department of Energy.

photo of Prasad Soman
“My experience at Tech has been exciting and fulfilling: study, teaching, and research amidst the beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” says Prasad Soman, who will graduate from Michigan Tech on April 30 with a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering.

He’ll soon be moving to California to take a position with Amazon, the culmination of many years of hard work. “My journey into the field of metallurgy and materials science began in India, way back in high school, when I was thinking of choosing a major for my undergraduate studies in engineering. I had developed a great interest in Physics and Chemistry, then discovered I could pursue my interest even further by choosing metallurgical engineering as my major,” he says. Though his new position will not utilize his metallurgical expertise in a direct way, Amazon was drawn to Prasad’s ability to independently carry out and complete a detailed research project that required a high level of attention to detail, data collection, and advanced analysis and physical modeling.

“I attended College of Engineering Pune, one of the top tier schools for metallurgy in India. Upon graduation, I went on to work in the steel industry for a while, and then decided to pursue higher education in the US.

Soman arrived at Michigan Tech with the intention of earning a Master’s in MSE. Professor Yun Hang Hu advised Soman towards that degree, involving him in research focused on the fabrication and characterization of Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2)-based electrodes (aka Moly) for supercapacitor applications. The experience prompted Soman to continue on in his studies and earn a PhD.

For his MS degree, Soman worked with Yun Hang Hu, Charles and Carroll McArthur Professor of MSE at Michigan Tech

Two MSE faculty members, Assistant Professor Erik Herbert and Professor Stephen Hackney, served as Soman’s PhD co-advisors. “Prasad analyzed the effect of grain boundary segregation on the strengthening and deformation mechanism in metals and alloys,” says Herbert. “To do this Prasad intensively used small-scale mechanical testing, including nanoindentation and in-situ TEM experiments.”

“The most exciting part of this work involved utilizing various material characterization techniques,” says Soman. “The Advanced Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL) facility, located in the Michigan Tech M&M building near the MSE department, is one of the best materials characterization facilities in the world. Characterization of the materials response to mechanical indentation was essential for my PhD work, so having access to the many techniques available in ACMAL was both revealing and fulfilling.”

‘The work was painstaking, but thanks to Prasad’s incredible hard work, skill, and dedication, he was able to make significant inroads to improve our understanding.” 

Dr. Erik Herbert, Assistant Professor, Materials Science & Engineering

Soman used a variety of characterization methods in his research, including nanoindentation, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and electron backscatter diffraction spectroscopy (EBSD). “All help examine materials behavior at the nanometer scale,” he adds.

In particular, Soman used nanoindentation to study local grain boundary deformation in metals and alloys. “Using nanoindentation we can measure hardness at a very small length scale. The indentation impression size is on the order of a couple of microns—smaller than the width of a human hair,” Soman explains.

Two MSE faculty members, Professor Stephen Hackney (l) and Assistant Professor Erik Herbert (r) served as Soman’s PhD co-advisors.

“Performing a nanoindentation was challenging at first. The goal is to get the indentation very close to the grain boundary. The task is done using a simple optical microscope, yet accuracy on the order of a couple of microns must be achieved. That kind of accuracy is essential for the proper positioning of the indent relative to the boundary. But just as for any other thing, the more you practice (and learn from mistakes) the better you perform. It’s been a great achievement for me to consistently get the indentation accurately placed.”

PhD Candidate Prasad Soman hard at work in Michigan Tech’s ACMAL Lab

“Instrumented indentation experiments allow us to measure materials properties—including hardness and elastic modulus—as a function of depth,” says Soman. “We also examine how different microstructural features—grain boundary vs. grain interior—respond to a very localized deformation at nanometers length scale.”

Soman says he decided to join Michigan Tech’s MSE program due to its strong emphasis on metallurgical engineering. “While here at Tech, however, I was exposed to a variety of domains within materials science—energy storage materials, semiconductors, polymers, and more. So, while I focused on my passion for fundamental science in metallurgy, I also developed understanding and skills in these different domains,” he explains.

“That has come to fruition, as I will now be going to work in the consumer electronics industry, which requires a multidisciplinary approach.”

The large building on the far left of this campus photo is Michigan Tech’s Mineral and Materials Engineering Building (aka the “M&M”)—home to the MSE Department and the Advanced Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL).

Soman will soon pack up and move to Sunnyvale, California. He’ll be working as a hardware development engineer at Amazon. “The team is a cool group of engineers/scientists with diverse backgrounds—mechanical, chemical, design and other disciplines, as well. We’ll develop health and wellness electronic devices, such as smart watches, smart AR/VR glasses, and more. This job will allow me to utilize some of the key skills I developed at Michigan Tech in the field of metallurgy and mechanics. More than anything, I am eager to learn from the best of the best—all the folks in my team.”

One last thing, adds Soman: “I will terribly miss Houghton. I call it my home away from home.”


Tim Schulz: Anatomy of a Fishing Season

A digital self portrait sketch by Tim Schulz. “I was fishing down at the Pilgrim River near town. I ended up using this for the cover of my book.”

Tim Schulz shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, March 29 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Tim Schulz, University Professor, Michigan Tech

What are you doing for supper this Monday 3/29 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tim Schulz, University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Prof. Schulz teaches electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, fishes for trout throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and plays guitar and writes songs in his spare time. He is the author of The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries, a collection of essays about fishing. 

Will Cantrell, Dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Tech

Joining in will be Will Cantrell, associate provost and dean of Michigan Tech’s graduate school. Dean Cantrell is also a professor of Physics. His research focuses on atmospheric science, particularly on clouds. In the summer, he goes fly fishing, occasionally tying some of his own flies.

During Husky Bites, Schulz will share the story of how he came to write his book, The Habits of Trout. It all began with a quest to explore the rugged backwoods environs where another author, John Voelker, found an abundance of wild trout and a dearth of crowds.

Schulz first came to Michigan Tech in 1992 as an assistant professor. He earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and then served as chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Schulz was appointed Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2007, then returned to the ECE department five years later as a professor. In 2019 Schulz was named a University Professor, a title recognizing faculty members who have made outstanding scholarly contributions to the University and their discipline over a substantial period of time.

“When my eye doctor asks if I ever see spots,” says Schulz, “I say ‘all the time.'” 

As a teacher, Schulz is widely acknowledged as one of the ECE department’s best, with his friendly, humorous style and his devotion to his students’ learning. He’s also a leader in using technology to deliver technical material in electrical and computer engineering. 

“There was a time when I believed I could solve the mysteries of trout in particular and of life in general. But now I think we sometimes need to get skunked. We need to break our line on a good fish every now and again, and sometimes we need to cast all day without a take. We need to be grounded by the humility of failure so we can be lifted by the hope of success.”

Excerpt with permission from The Habits of Trout and Other Unsolved Mysteries, by Timothy Schulz (Uptrout Press, 2018). All rights reserved.

Starting in 2012, Schulz created a series of videos collectively titled “Electric Circuits” and posted them on YouTube. Though he created them with his EE2111 (Electric Circuits 1) class in mind, they are reaching a much wider audience.  All combined, his educational videos have had over one million views on YouTube. One, “Thevenin Equivalent Circuits” has gotten more than 162,763 views. Since that time, Schulz developed a phone app of randomized electric circuit problems to use in this course, too. 

The Habits of Trout and Other Unsolved Mysteries is Schulz’s first book.

As a researcher, Schulz applies statistical signal-processing techniques to computational imaging and signal analysis. His methods have been used to clarify images from the Hubble Space Telescope and to miniaturize high-quality cameras for military surveillance and commercial applications. Shortly after the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, Schulz applied image processing methods to de-blur and improve images taken with the flawed telescope.

When and how did you discover a love of fly fishing? Did anyone teach you how?

Tim: One of my mom’s friends gave me a cheap fly rod when I was a kid, and I used that for bluegill. But I didn’t get serious about fly fishing in general, and fly fishing for trout in particular, until about 25 years ago when my wife Roxanne bid on fly fishing lessons that Ray Weglars donated to benefit a local art gallery. She has second guessed that ever since. 

Will: I helped my neighbor down the street, Lou Owen, with something. I think maybe it was his garage door opener. He insisted that I “take something” for my trouble. He ended up taking me fly fishing. That was my first experience with it. He showed me the basics. After that, I was self taught, and have no doubt taught myself some bad habits, especially with casting.

Rainbow Trout. Credit: Tim Schulz

Do you ever find yourself thinking about your research while you are out fishing? 

Tim: Sometimes, but not a lot. Mostly, I think about the flora, the fauna, and the fish. 

Will: Usually, when I’m fishing, I am thinking about the fish that’s rising, or where it might be if there’s not a fish rising, or how to get a fly to drift without dragging despite the three crosswise currents between me and where I want the fly…I am more likely to think about research problems when I’m walking the river to get where I will be fishing.

For those who have never ever tried it, what’s a good way to get started?

Tim: Go to a good fly shop and have them set you up. A good guide is invaluable for helping you get started. And read all you can on the subject. If you have a friend who fly fishes, take them to dinner, buy them beer, whiskey, or anything else they like. Fly anglers are secretive, but they have weaknesses, and they can be bought.

Will: Most fisherpeople will show you one or two spots that everyone knows about. What Tim suggests is probably the most reliable way.

“Here’s a brown I caught a couple of summers ago on
the Uncompahgre in Colorado,” says Cantrell.

How do you deal with the mosquitos and the biting insects?

Tim: From my chest down, I’m protected by waders. I always wear long sleeve shirts, and my wide-brim hat has been sprayed with bug-dope so much that the EPA has classified it as a minor environmental hazard. Also, if you do this long enough, you’ll learn to extend your lower lip in front of your upper lip and blow the bugs off your face. It really works.

Will: Badger Balm. Long sleeve shirt. If the bugs are biting you, there are also bugs on the water. Trout feed on bugs. I am much less bothered by biting insects when I’m casting to a rise that I think might be grandfather trout!

Brown Trout. Credit: Tim Schulz

In terms of fly fishing, what is your greatest strength? Your greatest weakness?

Tim: My greatest strength? Patience. I’m really good at sitting on a log or a rock and waiting for a fish to start feeding. I can do it for hours. Most of the big fish I’ve caught have been because of that. My greatest weakness? Patience. I’m really good at sitting on a log or a rock and waiting for a fish to start feeding. I can do it for hours. Most of my fishless days have been because of that. 

Will: My greatest weakness? Patience, lack thereof. I almost never do what Tim describes!

Word to the wise: Be careful if you decide to check out Madness and Magic, Prof. Schulz captivating blog. You may easily become hooked!


Volunteer to Judge at Michigan Tech’s Virtual Design Expo 2021

Due to the pandemic, Michigan Tech’s Design Expo showcase of Enterprise and Senior Design student projects will be virtual again this year, for the 2nd time in its 21-year history.

Just how well do students in Michigan Tech’s Enterprise and Senior Design programs address design challenges? You be the judge—volunteer at Design Expo 2021!

Now’s the time to consider serving as a distinguished judge at Michigan Tech’s upcoming 21st annual Design Expo, held virtually on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Hosted by the Pavlis Honors College and the College of Engineering as an annual event, Design Expo highlights hands-on, discovery-based learning at Michigan Tech.

Learn more at mtu.edu/expo.

At Design Expo, more than 1000 students in Enterprise and Senior Design teams showcase their work and compete for awards, which allows students to gain valuable experience and direct exposure to industry-relevant problems.

“No experience or education in engineering is required to be a judge,” says Briana Tucker, Enterprise Program Coordinator in the Pavlis Honors College at Michigan Tech. “In fact, we welcome judges from various professions, disciplines and backgrounds to volunteer to judge at this year’s event.”

As a virtual event, 2021 Design Expo will include a digital gallery of student-created videos showcasing project work. Judging usually takes about an hour, depending on the number of volunteers.

“We hope you will virtually join us at the 21st Design Expo. Whether a judge or simply a virtual guest, your involvement in the event is greatly valued by our student teams and makes a valuable contribution to their education.”

Briana Tucker, Enterprise Program Coordinator, Pavlis Honors College, Michigan Tech

Sign Me Up!

Visit Michigan Tech’s Design Expo Judges and Guests page for more information and to register to judge by Monday, April 5, 2021.

In order to be considered as a judge, please commit to the following: 

  • Attend Design Expo between 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM on April 15, 2021 to visit assigned teams via RocketJudge.
  • Review and score assigned team videos via RocketJudge prior to the start of Design Expo, April 12-15, 2021.

Who should judge?

  • Community members
  • Alumni interested in seeing what today’s undergraduate students are accomplishing as undergrads
  • Those looking to network with Michigan Tech faculty and students
  • Industry representatives interested in sponsoring a future project
  • Anyone with an interest in supporting our students as they engage in hands-on, discovery-based learning
A student from Advanced Metalworks Enterprise, one of the teams competing at Michigan Tech’s Design Expo 2021

Questions?

Feel free to contact Briana Tucker, Enterprise Program Coordinator in Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College, at bctucker@mtu.edu


Recognizing Outstanding Engineering Alumni in 2021

The Michigan Tech Alumni Board of Directors is proud to recognize outstanding alumni and friends with their 2021 awards program. The following are engineering alumni recognized this year:

Outstanding Young Alumni Award

Presented to alumni under the age of 35 who have distinguished themselves in their careers. The award recognizes the achievement of a position or some distinction noteworthy for one so recently graduated.

Kaitlyn Bunker
Kaitlyn Bunker ’10 ’12 ’14
Electrical Engineering
Megan Kreiger
Megan Kreiger ’09 ’12
Mathematics and Materials Science and Engineering

Outstanding Service Award

Presented to alumni and friends making significant contributions to the success of the Board of Directors and/or the University.

Kathy Hayrynen
Kathy Hayrynen ’86 ’89 ’93
Metallurgical Engineering

Distinguished Alumni Award

Presented to alumni who have made outstanding contributions both in their career and to Michigan Tech over a number of years.

Julie Fream
Julie Fream ’83
Chemical Engineering

Andrew Barnard + Travis White: Lake Superior, Marine Autonomy—and Fishing

Photo credit: Travis White

Andrew Barnard and Travis White share their knowledge on Husky Bites tonight, Monday, March 22 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper tonight, Monday 3/22 at 6 ET? Hey, it’s World Water Day 2021! Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Andrew Barnard, Director of Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC). Barnard is a Michigan Tech alum, and an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech, specializing in the field of acoustics, vibration, and noise control engineering.

Andrew Barnard, Director, Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Tech

Joining in will be Travis White, aka Captain White. He’s a research engineer at the GLRC, owner of Keweenaw Charters, and also a Michigan Tech alum. Travis earned his BS in mechanical engineering in 2011. He’s also an entrepreneur, as cofounder of ProNav Marine, a company that offers up high-tech tools designed to enhance the boating and fishing experience.

Travis White, Research Engineer, Great Lakes Research Center, Michigan Tech

Together they will present some of their exciting work around the Great Lakes and beyond, including engineering an autonomous jetski that will help map the bottom of Lake Superior–and advance research in the area of marine autonomy.

“Autonomous marine vehicles can aid in data collection to identify invasive species, monitor the effects of climate change, evaluate fish populations, assess water quality, and much more,” says White. “Not only does their widespread adoption and use help to protect our limited water resources for economic, environmental, and social benefits but also related technologies promise to make global shipping smarter, cleaner, and more efficient.”

The mission of Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center: To become a leader in interdisciplinary aquatic science and engineering focused on the Laurentian Great Lakes Basin in its entirety through excellence in research education and outreach.

According to White and Barnard, GLRC’s 11′ Yamaha WaveRunner, a personal watercraft, is being made autonomous through the addition of remotely controlled actuators for steering and throttle and sensors including GPS, compass, and inertial motion sensing.

“The Michigan Tech engineers behind this are collaborating with a supplier in Madrid, Spain to adapt their commercially available off the shelf control hardware for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to what will become an autonomous / unmanned surface vehicle (ASV / USV) once the integration is complete,” says White. “Currently the WaveRunner is fully remotely controllable, but the ultimate goal is making it fully autonomous, meaning it can be given a program via a computer software interface and deployed to complete missions without requiring an operator at the controls.”

Michigan Tech GLRC’s Yamaha WaveRunner, a personal watercraft (aka “jetski)

That research is one of many projects underway at the recently established Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS), which serves as a proving ground for new maritime technologies that will enable smart, autonomous, and unmanned shipping.  

“I grew up in the Blue Economy,” adds Barnard. “Twenty-one percent of the world’s surface freshwater is in the Great Lakes. If the Great Lakes states were their own country, they would have the world’s 3rd largest GDP. From tourism to shipping, water is vital to our economic engine.”

This week Michigan Tech’s celebrates World Water Day 2021 with a week full of special events from March 18-24. “It’s an exciting and varied schedule for all ages,” say White. Registration is needed for events on March 23 & 24. Visit the Great Lakes Research Center World Water Day website for more details. All events all relate to the United Nations theme, “Valuing Water.”

Water is vital to life. On World Water Day, discover how our community values water from social, economic, cultural, and environmental perspectives.

During Husky Bites, Andrew Barnard and Travis White of the Great Lakes Research Center will talk about the USGS Saildrone (pictured here)—how it works, and how it’s used for fish population assessment.

“Fishing is a vital resource for Great Lakes communities and tribes,” adds Barnard. “The USGS conducts yearly Great Lakes fish surveys. One problem: Noise from large vessels can affect accurate fish counting.”

White will discuss some interesting interdisciplinary research in his job at the Great Lakes Research Center, as well:

DARPA BioProtein—turning plastic into food (economic sustainability through environmental sustainability)

Lake Superior Geology—the Midcontinent Rift System (MRS) sample collection at Stannard Rock.

And the Great Lakes Buoy Program—real-time measurements of wind, waves, and weather (And, “Great for fishing,” adds White).

“My goal was to form a career around my passions,” says Travis. “Two of those passions: being on the water, and big fish!”

During Husky Bites, Barnard and White plan to hare a few (fish) tales from their time spent working on and around the water, experiences that inspire their work and fuel their passion for protecting water resources.

Andrew Barnard was born and raised outside of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, an area cradled between Lake Michigan and the bay of Green Bay. He comes from a long line of teachers.


Tim Eisele: Backyard Metals

It takes a village. (Leaching manganese in Tim Eisele’s lab at Michigan Tech requires help from a sizeable community of bacteria.)

Tim Eisele shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, March 15 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 3/15 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tim Eisele, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. His focus: sustainable metallurgy.

Tim Eisele, Chemical Engineering, Michigan Tech

“There is more than one way to extract metals from ore,” says Eisele. “Massive mines that disrupt many square miles are not the only way to go. I have been working on a method for using bacteria to recover iron and manganese in such a way that, if it is done carefully, it may not even be obvious that mining is going on at all.”

Joining in will be Neha Sharma, one of Dr. Eisele’s PhD students. She came to Michigan Tech from the India Institute of Technology after internships at Tata Steel, the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre in Australia, and India’s National Metallurgical Lab.

Eisele holds a BS, MS and PhD in Metallurgical Engineering, all from Michigan Tech. In his research, he develops bacterial processes for upgrading and extracting iron ores and low-cost reprocessing of industrial wastes such as slags and sludges to recover valuable metals.

The inspiration for this began right in Eisele’s own yard, and in his own household well. “We have 9 acres of surprisingly varied property that includes rock outcroppings, grassland, woods, and a small fen–a type of wetland–that bleeds iron,” he explains.

Iron bogs are located all over the world. This one is located in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

“It all started when we bought the house. All the plumbing fixtures were stained red. Really red. I took a glass of untreated drinking water to my lab at Michigan Tech, and found that iron precipitated out. We struck iron! So I thought, ‘Why is this happening? Is there something constructive we can do with this?’”

The high iron content of his home well water, Eisele figured out, was caused by naturally occurring anaerobic iron-dissolving organisms.

“The UP is well known for having these elements in the soil, both iron and manganese,” says Eisele. Jacobsville sandstone is a visible example. The white lines in Jacobsville sandstone are where bacteria ate out the iron.”

Jacobsville Sandstone from Jacobsville, Michigan. Held in the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Tech. Sample is approximately 12 cm across.

Eisele cultivated anaerobic and aerobic organisms in the laboratory to fully adapt them to the ore. “We use mixed cultures of organisms that we have found to be more effective than pure cultures of a single species of organism,” he explains. “The use of microorganism communities will also be more practical to implement on an industrial scale, where protecting the process from contamination by outside organisms may be impossible.”

“There was not much initial interest in the technology from industry,” recalls Eisele. “‘If you can demonstrate that you can do it at a profit, come talk to us,” they said.

Since that time, Eisele and his team have been branching out to also extract manganese, which is dissolved by the same organisms as the ones that dissolve iron. This has attracted more interest, including a recent funded project from the U.S. Department of Energy.

A diagram of Eisele’s reductive bioleaching concept. He’ll explain at Husky Bites!

“Manganese is one of the ‘battery metals,’” Eisele explains. “It’s also used heavily in most steel alloys.”

“Manganese is also currently considered a ‘critical element”. Currently there is no manganese mining or production in the US,” adds Eisele. “While there are manganese ores in this country, new extraction technology is needed in order to be competitive with ores elsewhere in the world.”

In Eisele’s lab at Michigan Tech, Neha Sharma and other students, both graduate and undergraduate, work on developing and refining the technology. This includes a small “model wetland” consisting of a 5-gallon container with a circulation of water and appropriate nutrients, –in effect, simulating the type of wetland that leaches metal.

“I work on a manganese leaching setup,” Sharma explains. “It involves analyzing the samples we get from the leaching flasks for the presence of manganese. The best part of the work? “New findings are always the best part,” says Sharma. The most challenging? “Writing about them!”

In the beaker on the right, anaerobic bacteria dissolve iron in the ferrous state. On the left, in Dr. Eisele’s hand, recovered electrolytic iron.

Professor Eisele, how did you first get involved in engineering. What sparked your interest?

I have been interested in science and engineering for as long as I can remember. I originally decided to work with metals after taking a welding class in high school, and came to Michigan Tech to study metallurgy in 1980.

“This is a Cecropia Moth caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia) that we found on a wild cherry last August.”

Family and hobbies?

I grew up on a small dairy farm in the Thumb area of lower Michigan, near Kinde (population 400). I then decided to move here, to the Big City. I currently live just outside of town with my wife, two children, a dog, a cat, six chickens, and a variable number of beehives. My daughters are still in school, and my wife is a locksmith.

“In my spare time, I like to take photos of insects, and started a website about it back in 2007, The Backyard Arthropod Project. Both of my daughters have participated in this from the beginning, and neither of them has the slightest fear of insects or spiders. My older daughter’s first contribution at the age of 2 was an assassin bug nymph, that she brought while crowing, ‘Take picture, Dada!’ My younger daughter, also at the age of 2, brought me a nice longhorn beetle that she held up while calling out ‘See! Bug!’ Lately I’ve also been including postings about the local plants, and have a couple of posts about the metal-leaching properties of our wetland.”

Neha Sharma, PhD student. Michigan Tech

Neha, how did you first get involved in engineering? What sparked your interest?

“I was always interested in science during my school days, so when I graduated from high school I thought that engineering would be the perfect fit for me. My major during my undergraduate studies in India was mineral processing. Working through those subjects and various internships –all focused on mineral processing and metallurgy–sparked my interest towards the sustainable aspect of these industries.”

One of Neha’s charcoal drawings: “I call it a tranquil life.”

Family and hobbies?

Neha with her brother, father and mother, on a visit ft the US from India.

“I grew up in a small town in India called Bokaro Steel City. I earned my bachelor’s degree from the Indian School of Mines (now Indian Institute of Technology) in Dhanbad, India. My parents still live in India. My father is a teacher in high school, teaching math and physics. My older brother works for Borealis AI, in Canada. My mother is a homemaker and loves gardening. I love going to new places. In my spare time, I’ll read a book or sketch. I love badminton, and cross country skiing, too. I am also a big Lord of the Rings fan, and a Potterhead too!”